What we know about Botes after handling all teams

Time. Crested Cranes Sheryl Botes looks at her watch during a game. PHOTOS/JOHN BATANUDDE 

What you need to know:

Botes came at a time when Uganda had been ejected from the Women’s Africa Cup of Nations (Wafcon) and Olympic qualifiers by Algeria and Cameroon respectively.

It is just a little over six months since Sheryl Botes was unveiled as national women’s senior football team, Crested Cranes, coach – for the next three years – on November 15 last year at Fufa House, Mengo.

Botes came at a time when Uganda had been ejected from the Women’s Africa Cup of Nations (Wafcon) and Olympic qualifiers by Algeria and Cameroon respectively.

So the competitive calendar for 2024 had been buried and Botes has to wait until the 2026 Wafcon qualifiers that should start in 2025 to lead the senior team into competition.

However, in December, she led them into two friendly matches with Morocco, where they drew one 1-1 and lost the other 3-0. She asked that the senior team remain active in every international matches’ window but that is yet to work on.

However, she has had the U-17s (Teen Cranes) in their World Cup qualifiers and U-20s (Queen Cranes) at the African Games to keep her engaged.

From closely watching the sides, here is what we believe Botes’ reign has been about so far.

Pragmatic and adaptive

When she was unveiled, Botes spoke at length about wanting players to use the ball. However, reality must have hit in Morocco in terms of the technical abilities of our players.

Since then, games have been approached in a pragmatic way. In her first game with the U-17s – the 1-1 home draw with Cameroon, Uganda did not bother with building the ball from the back. The players played like they were asked to hoof it long and go direct to goal if they have opportunities.

With Cameroon showing they were there for the taking, Botes changed approach and took the game to them in Yaounde winning 3-1 and 4-2 on aggregate.

Studying opponents

The U-20s participation in the African Games in Ghana was not punctuated with these changes to approach because of the nature of the tournament; playing everyone in the group once.

But Botes compensated that with clear knowledge about Ghana, Ethiopia and Tanzania with whom they had been drawn in Group A.

Nagadya celebrates a goal.

Apparently, she broke down the strength and weaknesses of each opponent, in the pre and post match conferences, so well at the Games that some journalists from those countries were amused that “she focused a lot on the opponent.” Suffice to note that she likes working with the media.

For Uganda, the strategy worked as they drew with Tanzania and Ghana and also beat Ethiopia to advance to the semis.

There, they lost to Nigeria and then beat Senegal on penalties in the bronze medal match.

But Botes also showed the home fans her research prowess when she broke down Zambia’s approach ahead of their encounter in the U-17 Women’s World Cup Qualifiers earlier this month.

Very tactical

Zambia’s long balls as warned by Botes, left Uganda for dead in Lusaka but the coach readjusted at home to press them high and stop them from kicking long. She also asked her players to dominate possession and Uganda could have progressed had it not been for some wayward finishing from the teenagers.

Botes, therefore, does not study opponents for the sake of it but to help her players approach games without fear and to find ways to nullify the opposition.

It is a different approach with the former national team coaches; say Charles Ayiekoh – now her assistant – whose approach was mostly about stifling the opponent and utilizing counter attacks no matter the kind of game. Even Ayub Khalifah is more about giving freedom to players with technical security.

Botes, although she allows players freedom and encourages ingenuity, will hammer down the details to players even in set-pieces.

In the home match against Zambia, Agnes Nabukenya, Esther Nangendo and goalkeeper Lillian Nakirya were on the freekicks, depending on the distances, but they hardly deviated from the practiced routines even when the visitors gave them space to hit straight to goal.

Open mindedness is key

If you watched the African Games, where Phionah Nabulime and Krusum Nabukenya – both league title contesting midfielders for Kawempe Muslim – played in defence and Latifah Nakasi – a formely proclaimed out and out striker – was given various midfield roles, then seeing an U-17 goalkeeper take freekicks from the halfway line against Zambia should not have surprised you.

Sheryl Botes conducts a training session. 

Botes looks like someone who will continue to give young players a chance to prove themselves, where she thinks they can do the job for their country. Those who can manipulate the ball and opponents are even at a better advantage.

She has already marked some U-20s and publicly stated that Nabukenya should be fast tracked to the senior team because “it is not a question of age but ability.”

Chopping and changing

While at it, she can be quite ruthless as the selection for the U-20s showed with formerly acclaimed players dropped midway through the camp while some like Juliet Nalukenge did not get much playing time in the tournament.

For the U-17s, Bethany Kaluya struggled in Zambia and was dropped for the return leg. Promise Kwagalakwe struggled at right back against Cameroon and was not only dropped for the second leg but also did not make the squad for matches against Zambia.

She has warned the senior national team players that some of the young ones are coming for them and she will surely carry some teenagers.

Reforms

While in the camps; Botes has noted three major things; first that players turn up with longstanding niggles.

Others have completely no idea of football jargon and tactical plans while the young players are hardly tested as most of them only play in school competitions.

She has therefore asked that she meets local coaches to discuss more about player welfare.

And also asked Fufa that all players that have potential to be on the senior team attend a Caf D coaches licensing course – and one is scheduled for the end of this month.

She also wants all players summoned to the U-17 national team to have an opportunity to play in the national topflight league. That too will require a special relationship with the club coaches, who must win games, to save their careers and jobs.

National team over everything else

For now the parties seem to have a fractured relationship. In March, towards the African Games, the U-20 team was in camp but some of their clubs had league games.

Botes refused to release the players to represent their clubs and the league matches were eventually cancelled. In the past, players always took hours off the camp to play in the league.

In late April, the reverse happened ahead of the U-17 team’s encounters with Zambia. Players were with their schools at the national championships in Ndejje. But Botes wanted them to join camp. The schools, most of them the bases of the clubs we see in the topflight league, declined.

Ikwaput (R) and Cameroon's Marlene Essimi vie for the ball. 

The Uganda Secondary School Sports Association (USSSA) threatened to throw out schools that refuse release players but the schools argued the competitions were not linked to Fufa activities.

According to documents that Saturday Monitor has seen, Fufa, where the USSSA president Justus Mugisha is also first vice president, threatened to “withdraw” their “mandate” (recognition and referees) from the school games if the players were not released. USSSA were forced to suspend the games at the quarterfinal stage until further notice.

So Botes will approach a group that struggles to understand her ‘national team comes first’ approach because the USSSA Games are important to the schools, which invest heavily in the players through scholarships and other incentives. They are the only major opportunity for the players to give back to their schools and also justify why they should continue getting bursaries.

Shery Botes’ report card

Crested Cranes

Friendlies

December 1: Morocco 1-1 Uganda

December 5: Morocco 3-0 Uganda

Teen Cranes

Fifa U-17 Women World Cup

Qualifiers – Second Round

First Leg: Uganda 1-1 Cameroon

Second Leg: Cameroon 1-3 Uganda

Uganda win 4-2 on aggregate to progress

Queen Cranes

African Games

Group stages

Tanzania 1-1 Uganda

Uganda 2-0 Ethiopia

Ghana 1-1 Uganda

*Uganda progressed to semis with five points

Semis: Uganda 0-2 Nigeria

Bronze match: Senegal 0 (5)-0 (6) Uganda